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Every year, celebrities come out in force to see and be seen at Academy award-winning actor Sean Penn’s annual J/P Haitian Relief Organisation (HRO) fundraising gala Help Haiti Home.
This year was no exception apart from a record US$37 million raked in – a far cry from last year’s US$7 million – as well as a name change from Help Haiti Home to Haiti Rising to reflect the country’s progress.
Held at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills and timed to coincide with the Golden Globe Awards and the resulting influx of some of the brightest stars in the entertainment galaxy, the gala saw Penn reprise his role as a champion of human rights and social action.
“Come on, man, these people are dying over here,” said Penn, appealing to a ballroom filled with movie stars and business entrepreneurs bidding on luxury auction prizes. “We need your help.”
The event, which was co-hosted by Bryan Lourd and Sean and Alexandra Parker, and presented by Lynne and Marc Benioff, was emceed by social commentator and comedian Bill Maher who praised Penn as “truly a man of action, whether you need someone to show up with a rowboat in a flood or interview El Chapo.”
Glitterazi in the crowd included Leonardo DiCaprio (who donated $125,000 in exchange for custom artwork by Ed Ruscha), Courtney Love (who bid $50,000 for Madonna’s Rebel Heart tour dress), Pamela Anderson, Jeffrey Tambor, Ed Norton, Nick Jonas, and Patricia Arquette.
The record $37 million that was committed to J/P HRO and their initiatives in Haiti came from benefactors including the Government of France, The Parker Foundation, and The World Bank, along with proceeds from the live auction.
Paul Farmer, founding director and chief strategist of Partners in Health, was honoured with the Garry Shandling Humanitarian Award, named for the legendary comedian who, upon his recent death, left US$1 million to J/P HRO.
Founded by Penn in the wake of the 2010 earthquake that ravaged Haiti, J/P HRO has worked to provide emergency medical care, food and shelter, and other essential aid to the impoverished Caribbean nation, which suffered another devastating blow last year when Hurricane Matthew pummelled the southern half of the country.
What began as 30 American volunteers has since grown to a full-time staff of 130 Haitians working tirelessly to restore what was ruined, as well as build toward a better tomorrow, which includes the implementation of a large-scale reforestation project.
Penn was named Ambassador at Large for Haiti in 2012, and was presented with the 2012 Peace Summit Award at the 12th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates for his work in the quake-ravaged country.